The Navy Department Library, founded in 1800 by the executive order of President John Adams, promotes the operational effectiveness of the United States Navy through the support of strategic planning, the education of naval personnel and the nation, and the inculcation of pride in the heritage of the naval service. By acquiring, organizing, preserving, and providing access, through reference services and Internet outreach, to pertinent books, manuscripts, and other textual sources, the Navy Department Library enhances and enriches the understanding of naval and maritime history, customs, and traditions.
The Navy Department Library traces its roots to a letter dated 31 March 1800 from President John Adams to Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert directing him to establish a library that would contain "the best writing...on the theory and practice of naval architecture, navigation, gunnery...." From that beginning, the Library's collections have grown to 114,000 book titles, 374,000 manuscripts, and 189,000 issues of periodicals, including 5,644 Rare and 11,011 Special Collections titles, with an emphasis on naval, nautical, and military history including foreign navies. The Library is home to the most comprehensive collection of historical literature on the United States Navy. Over 13.5% of the cataloged items are unique, and located nowhere else.
One of the few major military historical libraries open to the public, the library serves an international audience. It provides resources vital to the writing and publishing of naval history, as well as information relating to the needs of today's US Navy. The Navy Department Library joined the Federal Depository Library Program in 1895. The library's older holdings are included in the National Union Catalog of Pre-1956 Imprints , a set of 754 volumes, compiled from 1968 to 1981. The library uses the Library of Congress Classification system, and employs OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) services to assist in cataloging and interlibrary loan. The publicly accessible interface to OCLC is Worldcat, which allows researchers to search for items and determine which libraries, including the Navy Department Library, they are located in. The Library's catalog is online.
Individual highlights of the collection include the US Navy's first signal book, Thomas Truxtun's Instructions, Signals and Explanations... (1797); David Porter's signal book (1809); rare Confederate and Union signal books; calling cards collected by John Paul Jones in Russia; hundreds of unpublished World War II administrative and cryptological histories; translations of war diaries from various German Navy headquarters; material captured on the German submarine U-505 in 1944; and a collection of ship half-hull models.
For further information see "History of the Navy Department Library".
- Naval, maritime, and military history
- Naval architecture and shipbuilding
- Naval customs and traditions
- Naval doctrine
- Naval ordnance
- Naval shore and fleet activities
- Naval uniforms, insignia, and awards
- Navigation, voyages, and exploration
- Irregular Warfare
Special and Rare Collections
Personnel stationed or employed on the Washington Navy Yard may borrow materials for one month. The Library participates in interlibrary loan.Rare, Special Collection, and Reference books, as well as bound periodicals do not circulate. The Library reserves the right to refuse to circulate or permit the reproduction of any items considered unique or fragile. Items over 100 years old are not available for interlibrary loan. Faxed requests for interlibrary loan are not accepted.
Reference Assistance and Policy
The Library provides limited telephone, in person and written reference assistance. Detailed questions requiring in-depth research must be conducted in person at the library or by employing a commercial research service. Typically, the staff will suggest possible sources of information, such as a book or archival facility, to assist patrons in conducting their own research. Simple questions such as "When was USS America (CV-66) commissioned?" or "Who was the Secretary of the Navy in 1938?" can sometimes be answered via telephone.
Cruise Books: Borrowing Conditions and Reproduction Services
Most cruise book in the Navy Department Library may be reproduced. Researchers are encouraged to bring a digital camera to the library, or contact the Naval Historical Foundation concerning purchasing a reproduction. In some cases, photocopying or scanning by visitors and the Naval Historical Foundation will not be permitted when a volume is too fragile. World War II cruise books are not available for interlibrary loan. Duplicate copies of post-World War II cruise books may be loaned to your local library for "in library use" only, if your library agrees to return the books via a commercial courier service such as UPS or FedEx rather than the US Post Office.
Read about opportunities for volunteers, interns and Navy Reservists.
Washington Navy Yard, first floor, Building 44.
Map of WNY & Information on Visiting the Command
Mon-Fri: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Closed weekends and federal holidays
(202) 433-4132 DSN: 288-4132